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Before and After The Cultural Revolution

  • Frederick C. Teiwes


It comes as no surprise to current visitors to China that their hosts place great emphasis on the accomplishments of the Cultural Revolution. While production increases and improvements in living conditions are repeatedly cited, the basic change is spiritual – before the Cultural Revolution, elitist and selfish attitudes were allegedly widespread; since the Revolution, a new commitment to the common good by cadres and masses alike has purportedly enriched Chinese life. This preoccupation with the Cultural Revolution stems from more than a need to justify past upheavals, it reflects an ongoing debate over the realization of goals sanctified by that movement. The twin efforts of rebuilding the system and institutionalizing Cultural Revolution reforms have apparently caused deep misgivings on the part of some leaders who see a thinly disguised effort to “restore the old.” Thus the question of how China has changed since 1965 is of current policy relevance as well as intrinsic scholarly interest.



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1. I visited China from 25 September to 16 October 1973, with a delegation from the Research School of Pacific Studies of the Australian National University. Our itinerary was Canton, Chengchow, Anyang, Linhsien, Sian, Peking and Shanghai. The specific institutions visited were: The Chengchow Textile Machine Building Factory (under the Ministry of Light Industry), the Shanghai Diesel Engine Factory (under the First Ministry of Machine Building), Ma-ch'i-chai People's Commune in suburban Sian, the Sino-Hungarian Friendship People's Commune in suburban Peking, the No. 5 Loading Zone of Shanghai Harbour, Northwest University in Sian, Peking University, Fu-tan University in Shanghai, Chung-shan University in Canton, Peking Normal School, Feng-ch'eng street in Yang-p'u district, Shanghai, the Ch'ung-wen district, Peking, May 7 Cadre School in suburban Peking, and the Ching-an district, Shanghai, Children's Palace.

2. Other “new born things” normally attributed to the Cultural Revolution are the reform of public health and literary and art reform. However, I did not have the opportunity to pursue the former subject while in China and limitations of space prevent a discussion of the latter.

3. This purge rate of roughly 2% is double the less than 1% figure Chou En-lai gave for the entire Party, but still extremely low for a tumultuous movement such as the Cultural Revolution. See Snow, Edgar, “Talks with Chou En-lai: The Open Door,” The New Republic, 27 03, 1971, p. 21 .

4. Divisions within this factory had apparently been very sharp, with one death and about 300 injuries resulting from factional conflict.

5. Similar changes of status resulted from previous political campaigns with some activists given official posts and cultivated for further advancement and some cadres subjected to disciplinary measures. The manner and degree in which the Cultural Revolution experience differs from previous campaigns in this respect is difficult to determine; impressionistically, it appears that the sense of “winners and losers,” at least in urban institutions, is more widespread and deeper than in earlier movements.

6. This apparently occurred with some frequency in urban production units. Unfortunately I have no information for communes on this point.

7. This is not to gainsay the role of political criteria in the selection process but only to argue that, all other things being equal, they had an edge.

8. Doak Barnett's work on a pre-Cultural Revolution South China commune, however, does not reveal dual structures and indeed paints a picture very close to that recounted by commune cadres concerning present practices. See A. Doak Barnett, with a contribution by Vogel, Ezra, Cadres, Bureaucracy, and Political Power in Communist China (New York: Columbia University Press, 1967), pp. 339–62 . While Barnett, speaks of “two parallel hierarchies“ (p. 343), the Party structure be describes only consisted of the committee and its secretaries as is the case in the communes I visited .

9. Barnett's county had ten Party departments. Barnett, , Cadres, pp. 458–59 . Including the Revolutionary Committee apparatus, Anyang now has 26 major organs – four departments (pu), three offices (pan-kung-shih), 15 bureaux (chii), two commissions, a storehouse and a people's court – as well as numerous sub-ordinate units. This compares to 41 major units in Barnett's county before the Cultural Revolution. It does, however, reflect considerable expansion since initial Cultural Revolution measures which slashed such structures to as few as four sections.

10. For example, prior to the Cultural Revolution central authorities determined the curriculum, textbooks and length of study for primary and middle schools; now these matters are under the control of the provincial level.

11. While local ministerial offices translate central targets and plans into more detailed directives for factories, cadres view these offices as branches of the relevant ministries rather than as organs of the localities.

12. This system, which is detailed in 1956 Chung-yang ts'ai-cheng fa-kuei huipiert (1956 Compendium of Financial Laws and Regulations of the People's Republic of China) (Peking: Ts'ai-cheng ch'u-pan she, 1957), pp. 226–47 , applies only to “state cadres” whose salaries are fixed by administrative decision. Cadres in rural production brigades and small collectively operated urban enterprises earn a share of the collective income of their units.

13. Barry M. Richman, who visited 38 industrial enterprises during a two-month visit in 1966 before the Cultural Revolution, found that while about 80% of the factories he saw had bonus systems, no individual piecework systems and few collective piecework systems were in effect. Richman, , Industrial Society in Communist China (New York: Random House, 1969), p. 811 .

14. On the Shanghai docks conflict was also generated by the fact that if an accident occurred the entire work group was denied bonuses even though the fault may have been that of one individual.

15. At Ma-ch'i-chai Commune 2,000 of 26,800 mou (7–5%) were private plots. According to the 1962 “ Revised draft regulations for work on rural People's Communes”, Article 40, 5 to 7% of cultivated land should be private plots.

16. Both Northwest and Fu-tan Universities are operating at less than half capacity; Northwest has 1,400 students compared to a projected capacity of 3,000 while Fu-tan's students number 2,700 compared to 6,000 before the Cultural Revolution. Peking University's enrolment of 6,000 was described as “not full.” One effect of a small student body is that many teachers are not involved in teaching; at Fu-tan University only one-third actually teach while the remainder compile educational materials, engage in research, or carry out “investigation and study.”

17. Possible erosion of the three-year principle is suggested by the allowance of a fourth year for students at Peking University “if needed.”

18. For example, Fu-tan University and Shanghai Normal School exchange newly compiled texts.

19. There is evidence, however, that efforts to prevent this were undertaken in the years immediately preceding the Cultural Revolution, especially via intensified manual labour programmes for students. See Munro, Donald J., “Dissent in Communist China: the current anti-intellectual campaign in perspective,” Current Scene, 1 06 1966, p. 13ff .

20. Self-study consists of students pursuing individual topics and consulting with teachers as the need arises. At Chung-shan University students can choose from a variety of topics during the first two years and propose topics of their own during the third year.

21. The reform of teaching materials focuses on political purification – eliminating “feudal, imperialist and revisionist influences” – and simplification – rewriting “overly comprehensive and complicated” texts. For students with intellectual curiosity, however, university libraries provide an opportunity to go beyond the limited horizons of these materials. While these libraries have apparently been subjected to some Cultural Revolution cleansing, they still contain such thought provoking items as traditional novels, back runs of provincial newspapers, revolutionary histories published in the 1950s, and pamphlets by Lin Piao. In general, library stacks seem accessible to students.

22. China's only other known department of international relations at Fu-tan University also does not produce diplomats; they apparently are trained at the Institute of Foreign Affairs. The Peking and Fu-tan departments were established shortly before the Cultural Revolution and thus lack a long tradition.

23. There was room for the application of other criteria in cases where examination scores were identical or very close; then the applicant with the better class background was chosen. See also note 35, below.

24. This observation is based on conversations between D. A. Low of the ANU delegation and students at Fu-tan University. PLA men are also favoured in that they retain their army salaries which may be three times the stipend for ordinary students.

25. There is evidence of a conscious policy to increase the production of worker and peasant students in some institutions in the period immediately preceding the Cultural Revolution - a time when educational policy was under the personal leadership of liu Shao-ch'i. See Hunter, Neale, Shanghai Journal: An Eyewitness Account of the Cultural Revolution (New York: Praeger, 1969), p. 114 .

26. Information given to a Committee of Concerned Asian Scholars delegation at Wuhan University in March 1972 suggests an even stronger position for this group. The figures for 1970–71 students were: workers - 446, peasants – 57, PLA – 71, intellectual youth – 422, others (including barefoot doctors and children of cadres) – 249. Note also the relevance of the low number of peasant students to the following discussion. I am indebted to D. Gordon White for making available his notes of the CCAS tour.

27. In a perhaps comparable situation, students who began their course at Chungshan University before the Cultural Revolution graduated in 1970. Of 200 graduates of the foreign languages department, 20 were retained for positions at the university. According to one student who stayed on, no single criterion was employed and many with better linguistic abilities than he were sent to teach in the countryside. Besides academic achievement, political behaviour and the location of the student's family were also taken into account.

28. In this respect students recruited from urban factories have an inherent advantage over those from the countryside since even if they do not receive state assignments and return to their units they wind up in the cities.

29. For a discussion covering both pre- and post-Cultural Revolution periods, see D. Gordon White's forthcoming China Quarterly article, “The politics of social change in modern China: the case of Hsia-hsiang Youth.” The pre-Cultural Revolution administration of the policy in Shanghai, where most of my information was gathered, is dealt with in White, Lynn T. III, “Shanghai's polity in Cultural Revolution,” in Lewis, John Wilson (ed.), The City in Communist China (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1971), pp. 335–38.

30. The Ching-an Children's Palace, one of 11 in Shanghai, serves more than 50,000 children in this age group. The great bulk of these children come once a month for general activities such as watching plays or going through an obstacle course representing the Long March. In addition, 1,400 to 1,500 carefully selected children come once or twice a week for six month courses in chorus, violin, drawing, etc. These children are expected to become activists in their schools and spread the skills they learn at the palace.

31. Apprentices are paid a monthly wage of Y 18 in the first year, Y 20 in the second, and Y 22 in the third, or roughly one-third the average workers’ wage in this factory.

32. Each of Peking's eight urban districts and nine counties apparently has its own school. This indicates that some municipal level bureaux are combined, probably on a functional basis, for purposes of May 7 training since a city of Peking's size certainly has more than a dozen or so bureaux.

33. The number of classics studied does not appear to be extensive, however. At the Ch'ung-wen school theoretical study seemed limited to The Civil War in France.

34. This also has a serious economic aspect with the school's produce marketed to the state.

35. Mao's directive is translated in Ch'en, Jerome (ed.), Mao Papers: Anthology and Bibliography (London: Oxford University Press, 1970), pp. 103105 .

36. The five- to six-year interval was given as what a CITS cadre can expect; it is also consistent with the rate of turnover at the Ch'ung-wen district school. At some May 7 schools cadres have reportedly begun their second time round.

37. See Teiwes, Frederick C., “A case study of rectification: the 1958 Chengfeng Cheng-kai campaign in Hui-tung County,” Papers on Far Eastern History, 03 1973, pp. 7199, passim.

Before and After The Cultural Revolution

  • Frederick C. Teiwes


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